Since this is my second time reviewing Grand Theft Auto V, and since I’ve already expressed my admiration for both console versions, let’s address Rockstar’s problems first before singing any further praises. When it comes to PC gaming, Rockstar doesn’t have the best track record. Bully and Grand Theft Auto IV are still one of the worst PC ports to date (even with all the mods), their recent San Andreas “HD update” was a horrid conversion of the mobile version, and while Max Payne 3 and L.A. Noir were tremendous improvements, Rockstar’s DRM (Rockstar Games Social Club) remains a nuisance that provides more problems than benefits.
Grand Theft Auto V is one of the most expensive games ever made, and despite gaining record breaking profits, Rockstar has learned little from their past mistakes. I waited an entire week before I was finally able to launch my review copy, and according to the Steam and Rockstar forums, I wasn’t alone. Server problems and performance bugs are one thing, but being unable to even start the game due to Rockstar’s launcher conflicting with Windows Usernames (amongst other things) is an entirely different matter. Now that the game has finally been patched, does it live up to the hype?
"Dusk and dawn on rainy days look particularly jaw dropping, with wet surfaces reflecting surrounding lights with unparalleled realism."
If this is your first time journeying through GTA V and you’re unfamiliar with its characters and narrative, please refer to our original Grand Theft Auto V review where we discuss plot and gameplay mechanics in greater detail. This review focuses solely on technical improvements of the PC port, and whether gamers who enjoyed the console versions should revisit Los Santos one more time.
My hardware for testing GTA V consists of a GTX 780 3GD5, an i7 4770, 32GB of RAM, Windows 8.1 and an ASUS 1440p monitor. As far as graphics settings go, Rockstar has really gone out of their way to ensure gamers with varying hardware specs can run the game. Considering the sheer scope and stupendous amount of detail, GTA V operates remarkably well. Since the benchmark tool is bugged and crashes repeatedly, I’ve taken notes by playing through different parts of the map and analyzing frame rate stats by switching between different graphics options.
Improved lighting and higher resolution textures make the already gorgeous environments even more impressive. Dusk and dawn on rainy days look particularly jaw dropping, with wet surfaces reflecting surrounding lights with unparalleled realism. The shadows, on the other hand, are a bit of a mixed bag depending on which setting is used. The soft setting exhibits pixelated shadows that clip when examined up close (this is very noticeable during daytime cutscenes), and while Nvidia’s PCSS option is notably cleaner and more realistic, the frame rate takes a massive hit when driving down busy roads.
"Achieving a consistent frame rate at maxed settings isn’t easy, even with powerful hardware. After testing each section on the map, we had to turn most options to very high in order to avoid severe FPS drops."
One of the strangest settings is the 59hz display limitation. Being unable to set 60hz results in subtle motion stutter when panning the camera 360 degrees. Even after turning off the in-game Vsync and enabling it through Nvidia’s Control Panel, the stutter persists. Most gamers won’t be bothered by it, and it’s not especially distracting to be honest, but if you’re picky like me, the light judder may be a small nuisance. (Note: setting 60hz via the Windows Display Driver may or may not remedy the situation for certain rigs).
FXAA and MSAA (TXAA is only available on newer Nvidia cards) are used for anti aliasing, with FXAA being the prefered option for lower end rigs. Surprisingly, setting reflection MSAA and reflection quality at their highest setting still yields favorable performance, at least with our GTX 780. At 1440p, FXAA doesn’t look nearly as blurry as in 1080p, so if you’re gaming at higher resolutions, FXAA is undoubtedly the way to go.
Achieving a consistent frame rate at maxed settings isn’t easy, even with powerful hardware. After testing each section on the map, we had to turn most options to very high in order to avoid severe FPS drops. Grass density in particular has a hefty impact on performance when venturing outside the city. Keeping this setting at high in combination to turning down Post FX to normal produces drastic improvements.
"Grand Theft Auto V on the PC is unquestionably the definitive version. Even on mid range hardware, the overall quality blows its console counterparts out of the water."
Shader quality is another adjustment that takes a big hit on fps. Its visual impact between the normal and ultra settings isn’t as extreme as some of the other sliders, but running shader quality at max can cut down on more than 20 fps when compared to normal settings. Surprisingly, the texture quality setting between low and max is almost negligible. Rockstar has done a superb job of optimizing texture assets to allow even mid range rigs to exhibit the highest available quality. In most of the other settings, the performance differences are relatively minor.
Grand Theft Auto V’s Online Mode remains the game’s biggest disappointment. Constant connection problems and long wait times affect nearly every session, and aside from the thrilling heists, the map without most of its inhabitants feels lifeless and sterile. Hopefully, the modding community will introduce more exciting gameplay elements to GTA’s online component, but at its current stage, it still feels like a great idea that’s just not quite there yet.
Grand Theft Auto V on the PC is unquestionably the definitive version. Even on mid range hardware, the overall quality blows its console counterparts out of the water. Experiencing Los Santos in 60fps is immensely satisfying, and the ability to tweak nearly every imaginable graphics setting with such stable results is a welcoming change from Rockstar’s past PC ports. It’s still frustrating that Rockstar’s DRM has caused (and continues to cause) so many problems, but even with all the hiccups, the painfully long wait for the ultimate GTA experience has been worth it.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC